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Radio 5 Live highlights repaired salvage issues

Write offs
Unless we can get sense from the insurance industry and DVLA, we could see the end of repairable salvage.
We have been ‘banging on’ about the problems with salvage classifications and related issues for a long time now and it appears that the main stream is starting to take notice!

On February 23rd Radio five live broadcast a programme, ‘Write offs that are returned to the road’. Although it’s positive to see that salvage issues are starting to reach a wider audience due primarily to the attitudes of the insurance industry and DVLA, we must remain alert to the potential of an over reaction that could lead to any written off vehicle being banned from ever going back on the road.

First though, what did the programme have to say? The programme focussed primarily on the issue that written off vehicles have been returned to the roads which have not been repaired to a safe standard, potentially causing undue risk to unknowing buyers. There were several examples during the show of sub standard repairs.

The criticism was levelled at the insurance companies for not having a binding code that would classify a vehicle as suitable for repair or not, and the variation between insurers as to where they would classify a particular vehicle. Issues we have raised many times. If a vehicle is CAT A or B then it should not be possible to return it to the road and simply reclassifying a vehicle to a C rather than a B is not an acceptable practice.

DVLA (again, an organisation we have a very low opinion of) were also criticised for reissuing vehicle documents when they are intended not to return to the road.

We all know that technically any vehicle can be repaired. Not matter how bad the damage there is usually something left that would still be classed as serviceable, so replace everything else and the vehicle should be as safe as any other. We all understand that from a value point of view the sums don’t add up and so the vehicle is written off. We also all recognise that many written off cars can be returned to the road cost effectively and safely using reliable and checked green used parts.

What has really changed with vehicles of recent years is the way in which they are made with the use of light, high tensile materials that you can’t just get your gas bottles out for or fire up the spot welder. And this is where the big safety issue really bites. Many, many smaller garages and part time repairers (and I consider myself in this category) are not aware of these issues. You may think you have repaired a vehicle and believe you have done a good, professional job but these fancy steels (and aluminium alloys) do not respond to panel beating and conventional welding techniques. The result being that the structural integrity is reduced.

For this reason (above all other financial reasons), write off classifications must be strict, they must be adhered to, they mustn’t be manipulated and when a vehicle is said not to go back on the road then DVLA should have systems to prevent it happening. These vehicles that are classed as unsuitable for repair must also be blocked from export markets, otherwise we are simply exporting this problem. This really is down to the insurance industry and DVLA. Any new controls must account for uninsured fleets as well.

The reality is that it could be your kid driving one of these vehicles - you or a mate may well have carried out the repair and just not appreciate the seriousness of these modern materials. I’ve been wrong enough times to know it’s possible. For this reason, the BBC show called for an engineer’s report prior to any write off being allowed back on the road. Let’s face it, a VIC test is pointless in this area. It’s also unbelievable that written off vehicles don’t need a fresh MOT - this needs to change.

Don’t get me wrong, correct repair methods are available from Thatcham but unless you’re a full time body shop the costs are quite prohibitive. Perhaps they could look at selling specific repair information to trade on a one off basis. Provided the repair is carried out correctly then the structural integrity would be maintained.

My fear is that the insurers and DVLA will do nothing, the one wanting to maximise their return from salvage and the other just not being bothered. We shall continue to get reports of people being killed on our roads due to poorly repaired salvage, but when this reaches a critical mass, we shall then get the usual government knee-jerk reaction and we will get a ban on all write offs -no matter how minor the damage being banned from being repaired - I don’t think any of us want that!

The Government is currently considering its options with the review of the VIC scheme, and pressure is growing to make some really significant changes here – perhaps to introduce an engineering inspection for all salvage – otherwise insurers will just try to get around this by changing categories.

This week we also hear that even the Competition Commission is showing an interest in salvage, because of how it affects the cost of private motor insurance. Both Trade Associations and private companies are been ‘called in’ to give evidence.

MVDA is working hard to make sure that the necessary changes do take place and also to ensure common sense prevails. But clearly, they have been critical in getting the issue to the current level of awareness. We shall keep you informed of developments but your views are always welcome - email us here.

March 2014

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